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Rocks ‘n’ Rolls

Herb Ritts’ Photos From Rock Hall

Open Now In Cooperstown Exhibit

Smile for the camera! Todd Kenyon, director of communications, strikes a pose as curator Chris Rossi imagines she’s Herb Ritts. The backdrop, reminiscent of Ritts’ “Cherish” photoshoot with Madonna, will be available for photos in the community room. (Ian Austin/

By LIBBY CUDMORE • The Freeman’s Journal & Hometown Oneonta

The Fenimore has produced cards with images of Ritts’ photos to promote the exhibit.

COOPERSTOWN – At the Fenimore Art Museum, there’s a whole room dedicated to Madonna.

Not “Giotto” or “Pieta” – The Material Girl.

“Herb Ritts photographed her 36 different times,” said Todd Kenyon, director of communications. “The first time he shot her, she swore she’d never work with him again – and then she saw the pictures.”

“Herb Ritts: The Rock Portraits” opened this past Tuesday, April 2. A collaboration between the Fenimore, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Herb Ritts Foundation, the exhibit includes 100 of Ritts’ iconic rock photography, as well as related artifacts from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

“It’s a little different than we’ve done in the past,” said Paul D’Ambrosio, Fenimore president. “We’ve always had photo exhibits, but this is a whole different feel, a whole different experience.”

The show was curated in collaboration with the Herb Ritts Foundation, which advised on layout. “They were the ones who suggested Madonna have a separate space,” said D’Ambrosio. “When we put it all up on the wall, we realized they knew what they were talking about.”

The photos are grouped by artist – David Bowie, Prince, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and 2019 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Janet Jackson among them.

“My favorite is the Bowie wall,” said curator Chris Rossi. “It shows such a diversity of Bowie as an artist.”

But because the artists are not grouped chronologically, the exhibit has a free-form feel – like the art form itself, when you think about it.

“There are so many different ways you can explore it,” said D’Ambrosio.

Fenimore President Paul D’Ambrosio poses next to the image of Madonna on the “True Blue” cover, one of Ritts’ most iconic photos of her. (Ian Austin/

“The story of the show is that he had this disarming way about him that was able to bring out these stars personalities,” said D’Ambrosio. “It resulted in these images that were so iconic.”

The photo of Dizzy Gallespie with his cheek inflated, for example, came from the end of the shoot. “He was tired of people asking him to inflate his cheek,” said D’Ambrosio. “When the shoot was over, he asked for one more, and Dizzy was comfortable enough that he did it, and that became the quintessential image.”

The photo was used for a 1989 Gap ad. “Dizzy didn’t even know what the Gap was!” said D’Ambrosio.

In addition to the photos, there are several artifacts from Ritts’ own collection, including cameras, contact sheets and a planner. “Seeing the process is so cool,” said curator Chris Rossi. “You look at the contact sheets, the one he circled and you think, yes, that’s the one!”

The Fenimore made take-home postcards of Madonna, Cher, Tina Turner and David Bowie, and a photo booth in the style of Madonna’s “Cherish” photo shoot was set up in the Community Room so visitors can mimic their own Herb-Ritts-style photo shoot.

Curator Chris Rossi admires Madonna’s tuxedo. (Ian Austin/

The items loaned from The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame archives, including Sting’s bass include Elton John’s purple Versace suit, and Rod Stewart’s tiger-striped jumpsuit. “Everyone is going to want to wear that to the gala!” said Rossi.

The annual Gala on Friday, July 12, will be rock & roll themed, with Ritts’ brother, Rory, and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame President Greg Harris in attendance. The following day, both will speak at the symposium, which, for the first time, will be free and open to the public.

For [arents drawn by the rock ‘n’ roll, there will also be something for the kids: The same day, a family-friendly exhibit, Mo Willems’ “Elephant & Piggie in WE ARE ART!” opened in the Scriven Gallery.

“We started doing illustration exhibits with NC Wyeth,” said Rossi. “Last year, when we had the Maurice Sendak we lost our heads. We thought, why aren’t we doing a series on children’s books?”

On loan from the Eric Carle Museum, the exhibit features sketches and fully illustrated panels, notes and even a section where kids can learn to draw Elephant and Piggie.

The “Food For Thought” series is also being expanded into a family-friendly event, with story times and pre-school -ge events. “It’s a delightful way to keep up with our mission,” she said. “Illustration is a fine art, and we want to serve children as well.”

While the Ritts exhibit is on through Sept. 2, “Elephant & Piggie” closes May 15, with “Perfect Harmony: The Musical Art & Life of William Sidney Mount” opening in its place.

“We want a record-breaking crowd this year,” said Kenyon.


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